Review by askthemaster
"Not only is it great, but it's hard to argue against."
Game Review: Resident Evil 4
Well, the much anticipated Resident Evil 4 is here, and it lives up to it's expectation very well. That can be one big problem with any sequel... If something calls for a sequel, it has something good to live up to. But even in the face of doubt, Resident Evil 4 surfaces as a splendid game, and it is already nearly unarguable that the game will fall down in history. And not just in the genre of survival horror... You can already tell, even just from picking up the game, that it will be respected as one of the most well constructed video games of all time.
First of all... For all Resident Evil fans, this game is very different than what you are used to in the Resident Evil series. It does things in it's storyline that the creators of Resident Evil have never done before, and it does them well. So do not pick up this game and expect a direct sequel with similar plot aspects as it's predecessors.
We start the game with our familiar Resident Evil hero named Leon. To put it shortly, Leon was involved in the incidents in Raccoon City a while ago, as a cop. And the incidents weren't just murders. They shook the world. It involved biological mistakes that caused the nightmare that you see in horror movies, zombies, to be not just part of a bad dream.
But now, it is 2004, and Leon is through with the police business. He is now working for the US government as a personal bodyguard to the presidents family. But right as he was about to get on the job, the presidents daughter was kidnaped. Sources claim that she has been taken to a remote European countryside, so Leon is assigned to take a trip to Europe and rescue the presidents daughter, Ashley Graham.
And that's that. The setup is fairly simple, and easy to understand for RE fans and new players alike. But as the story starts, strange things start happening. And even if you are a Resident Evil fan, they will start to confuse you as well. As soon as Leon reaches the village in which Ashley was seen, he comes in contact with a crazed group of people who do not seem to want Leon there. And if you haven't already heard, they are not zombies, the element that the Resident Evil series has been driven on. And so the hunt begins. With the inhabitants of the village in opposition to Leon, he can no longer do any reasoning with the villagers. He will have to fight his way through the village in hopes of finding the presidents daughter, and not "kicking the bucket" in the process.
The storyline in RE4 is pretty straightforward, and throughout the entire thing, dialogue is presented from conversations on Leons radio, and through beautifully orchestrated cutscenes with superb voice acting (we will get to that later). But even if there is an easy to understand storyline, that doesn't mean that there will not be any plot twists. There are, and lots of them. But they are all done smoothly, so that when there is a major plot twist, you understand it well enough so that you can carry on knowing what you are doing.
One obvious element to the survival horror genre is the horror. And yes, in the game, there are some very graphic, intense, and scary moments that may make you jump. As if other Resident Evil games were not scary, this does all that the previous games have done and more. You will find yourself in some not so happy places doing some not so happy things, and the horror aspect of RE4 is also done very well. So I suggest to you, if you do decide to play the game, do it at night with your lights dimmed (or better yet, out), because to get the full experience of a survival horror game, treating it like it is a horror movie helps.
One obvious difference from other Resident Evils is the fact that it takes place in a variety of places, as opposed to just a mansion. You won't be spending all of your time in just the village through the course of the game. The game is divided into three major areas, all of which are highly creepy and well crafted. But the game takes place in the course of about three quarters of a day, which is a reasonable similarity that you can enjoy. But even though I have been listing the good aspects of RE4s storyline, it isn't all completely positive. There is some cheesy dialogue, but it almost seems deliciously cheesy in the end. And unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of character development throughout the story. There is some, but not a ton. That is okay though... Survival Horror games were not made for character development.
There are an array of characters throughout the game too, which is something else that you may not have expected. In Resident Evil, you spent your game time in a mansion, moving around, and every once and a while, you would come across one of your comrades who mysteriously disappeared for some reason. That is not the case anymore. Your environments are not so restricted anymore, and you will travel many a mile throughout the course of the game, and you will meet other people. Well, other people that don't want to mortally wound you. And as you develop as a character, so will they. But important characters who DO want to mortally wound you are even done very well. Most of the villains that you will meet throughout the game are pretty much obviously introduced as someone (or something) that you do not want to mess with. And because the game spans across three major areas, you will meet a host of different villains, getting more and more bad as they go.
That is another great aspect of Resident Evil 4... Things build as you go. Things will get more and more scary as the game progresses, and things get more and more strange. Enemies will get progressively hostile and powerful, and things will get more and more difficult as well. So always expect something worse than what you have seen, because things go downhill for Leon in the storyline, and the intense and immersing storyline just keeps getting better and better.
Yes, the gameplay is fantastic. Phenomenal even. And if you thought there were any flaws with other Resident Evil titles... Guess what? Just about all of those flaws have been altered to create an amazing gameplay experience.
First, lets talk about the main flow of the game. You usually go through a few areas full of action sequences which test your abilities (and VERY occasionally, your gag reflexes), and are filled with action and a reasonable challenge. Then you reach a safe spot, and save using typewriters. By the way, another change that RE fans will most likely sigh in relief at is that you no longer need ink ribbons to save your progress, so you can save to your hearts desire. You might also find a merchant, a cloaked enigma that will sell weapons, weapon upgrades, weapon accessories, and maybe even a healing item. This is another pleasant addition to RE... You won't always just pick up weapons off of walls (although that may happen too...). You will buy a majority of the variety of weapons you use. Then, after that spot where you can not get brutally injured, you will either repeat the process, or face a boss, and you know how that goes... They are big, they are bad, and they aren't going to be too easy.
Let's talk more about some miscellaneous aspects of Resident Evil 4, which will benefit to new and old players alike... Through the game, there will be items which you pick up, much like any game. You might find an herb that can heal your health (and have other positive effects if mixed with one another), you may find a treasure such as an antique which you can seed off to your merchant friend, or even money to purchase equipment. Weapons aren't just restricted to simple weapons either... You will have some heavy duty equipment that you can lug around with you. I don't want to spoil too much, but as you go along, there will be things that you can't deal with just a handgun. And then, that's where the heavy artillery comes into play.
Items are managed in a much different way. When you press Y, you are opened to a great pause menu, in which you can view files you receive, a handy map, key items, and weapons and such. You organize your weapons, ammo (of which there is a healthy amount, and no more), and healing items by means of a square grid. Each item or weapon is a certain amount of squares wide and tall, and you may have to organize your inventory to make everything sensible and possible to carry. You can combine certain items, like to pieces of a treasure, together to increase their value or usefulness.
We still have puzzles. Do not think they forgot that. You will find yourself in familiar situations involving combining pieces of items, flipping panels, etc. They are not horribly challenging, but they reserve the pleasure that many RE fans live for, but new fans may raise an eyebrow at. Puzzles and survival horror? Do they mix? Yes, they do. Trust me.
As for the action aspects of the game... Things are much more in your face. You are no longer restricted to long hallways to battle enemies in. There are large open spaces, and you can easily be surrounded by the crazed villagers known as Ganados. Which brings me to another point... There aren't just a few villagers. Not like zombies. There can be a truckload of foes surrounding you at once, formulating plans as to how to catch you, etc. They are smart, and they can communicate. They can be slow, but that does not mean they can't throw an axe at you or unleash very special and unexpected weaponry; the highly advertised chainsaw man comes to mind at first thought on the subject. Things can look bleak for you, and even a little grizzly.
But you as a character can, and are expected to, counter these unfavorable qualities accordingly. The A button can do a slew of things in an action sequence. Lets say you are being held in a house. You can push furniture in front of doors, push ladders from windows, and much much more. Early on, you will find out that you can even use grenades in battle, and using your knowledge of physics, the results can turn out to be very positive. Using your main weapon, guns, you can shoot your enemies in different spots on their body. Shooting their face may stun them, leaving you open to kick them, for example. You will also have to use a bit of strategy to survive too... Reloading at the right time is an important skill that you will have to learn, or have told to you, as my close friend did for me. You also wield a handy knife, used for slashing enemies, opening crates, or doing other handiwork when a bullet is not the ticket, or available.
A few hours into the game, you will pick up Ashley too... But it isn't all that simple. That is surely not the end of your troubles. Ashley will have to follow you around at some points too, and you have no choice but to have to command her to do things when she knows not how to do them herself. Using a simple button tap, you can tell Ashley to wait in one place, come to you, follow you, and more. Not only that... But Ashley is missing something that any companion is prone to in any video game... Being annoying. She is in fact helpful. If an enemy is approaching her, she will run, and if you have a gun pointed her way, she well duck. She does not yell random statements, complain, or lag behind too much either. Beautiful A.I., really.
The game brings you to a host of places. Just as soon as you get used to a certain type of area, you are surprised. There is never a dull moment, and anything can happen at any time. As you go along, what may have seemed to have been hell for you earlier might as well be heaven. In the end, Resident Evil 4 has nearly unmatched gameplay it's genre.
Okay... Here is the big one... One of the focal points of Resident Evil 4, the graphics. Unparalleled in realistic look, creepy feel, and fantastic execution, graphical prowess is THE area in which the game shines. Although not the most important, by far the most impressive.
Lets start with things you will notice from the beginning of the game, so not to spoil anything for you. Right when you take that first step out into the game, you will notice the over the shoulder camera view, something that RE has never done before. They haven't done first person either, but this beats that style easily. You know what happens to Leon in detail, because you see it. House of the Dead style survival horrors are lacking in feel because, when you get nailed with something, you don't know EXACTLY what happened to the character. Your screen goes red for a little, that means you got hit. Simple. But in RE4, you see things coming. You can feel the air behind you without seeing it, and anything can rush you from behind. Every angle is fair game. And you see how Leon reacts, runs, and even how his hair flows in a gust of wind (which by the way, might be the most realistic hair I have ever seen in a video game).
Your environments are unbelievably amazing. Even in the first area, you can almost feel your feet against the cold, packed, dirt road on the overcasted fall day. Leaves of many different colors surround you underneath dead trees, and you can see an old, creaky, wooden house in the distance. You can even spot crows too, hanging around in trees, or on a signpost with dangling skulls. That is when those two realization brain cells in your mind collide and tell you that something is awry.
The humans in the game are realistic too. A young hostile villager may have 5 o'clock shave. Leon has fair skin and unscuffed clothes... At least in the beginning. On one hand, many of the villager graphics are the same, so that is one apparent downside that they had no way of fixing. Even small wooden boxes look realistic enough. Metal objects have sheen, or not if they are rusted. Sometimes, the graphics are eerily realistic, an aspect that you will grow accustomed to quickly. You can even feel an enemy's aura when it approaches you, and you will not like that aura. I promise.
This is a survival horror game... So there may be some graphics that are a little disturbing. But realistically disturbing, be that good or bad. There will be blood when you or your enemy gets injured, but that amount is discreet for you and reasonable for your foes. But gore isn't the only creepy graphic... A dingy cave can be equally as unnerving as a dead body, believe it or not. Creeping lighting effects are spectacular too, and water effects are above par for a next generation console.
Cutscenes are another great addition to the game, and where all the plot and action works itself in. When I first played through the game, I honestly couldn't believe how many cutscenes they had, and how well the developers make them work. They are full of different camera angles, which display how realistic the game really is, and will even have you on the edge of your seat when you have to push a button command smack in the middle of a conversation. It is not all plot... There are dazzling, almost Hollywood type stunts and effects that the characters perform that may liberate some drool.
I can't put it more plainly... Resident Evil 4 hosts realistic, beautiful, and scary graphics. Simple as that. I honestly cannot see how graphics could go uphill from here. There is only one flaw... There is wide-screen and only wide-screen, but that bad side is so easily outdone that it is almost not even worth mentioning. Hey, it makes the game feel like a movie too, as if it did not already.
Resident Evil builds tension and psychological creep with an aspect so cheap and effective, that you may not believe it. Silence. If you have ever seen a horror movie, I'm sure you have seen a moment where the character is doing something moderately stupid, like leaving the room alone when they know the monster is somewhere, and have something pop out at them. Psycho did it, one of the greatest horror flicks ever spawned. Resident Evil four refuses to get left out. Sometimes, when you don't know what is coming, your only form of comfort comes in the sound of a gust of air, and nothing more. Kick open a door with a foe inside, an energetic drum filled blood pumping track starts. As great as silence is for a survival horror game, there is perhaps a tad too much of it. There isn't much of a soundtrack, which is one of my only complaints. But there are a few well orchestrated save room tracks that do their job very well.
Voice acting also picks Resident Evil 4 out of the crowd full of action games available. Every character has a voice. Leon has a very good hero voice, and will say a crafty insult with the right tone when he needs to. Your enemies will talk in Spanish to each other, which is also a nice touch. But hey, an enemy might just screech and lunge at you too. But a few other characters actually talk in English to you, and they nailed the accents perfectly. Yells and screams are realistic, and tone is very nice too.
Sound effects are another grand aspect of Resident Evil 4s sound... You can hear rain falling faintly from indoors, and loudly when outdoors. A grenade exploding not only looks, but sounds like a grenade exploding. Realistic grunts mark when you or your enemies are hit with something. Gunshots are vivid, and you might even hear a shell hitting the floor. A religious fanatic whispers quietly while you swipe your knife in preparation. Almost flawless sound effects.
And you are in for a very special surprise if you have surround sound. That, no lights, and a plasma screen TV, and you are good to go.
Some of you might remember the old Resident Evil days. The days where getting a head shot was nearly impossible. The days with fixed cameras. The days where reloading was a hassle.
My friends, those days are over. A new age is here. Holding the R button raises your aim with your gun, and you can shoot with the A button from there. Even more nice, you have a choice between regular and inverted aim. The L button dons your knife as well, which can also be used with rapid succession while holding down the A button. Not only is aiming much easier and not as sensitive to the touch, but a laser sight equipped on every gun can make headshots not so hard at all.
The A button does it all too... Just about any action can be performed with a tap from the A button, and a prompt at the bottom of the screen will tell you what the command is. But unfortunately, that means if you have a pack of ammo in front of you that you do not want to pick up, you may be hindered in jumping through a window unless you pick it up. I suppose we could have done with another button to do things, but this setup works out fine too.
On your first play through, things will come to you. You will understand early on that you will have to conserve ammo and do things in certain ways. And it will keep you thinking and on your toes. Puzzles are a tad on the easy side, but still enjoyable.
The second time through, things get different. You will know what to do, and things will not be as hard. But there is, fortunately and inevitably, a professional mode to test your skill if you were not challenged by the regular game. Even if you know what is coming, professional mode might still scare you a bit.
On your first play through, chances are, you will net around 30-40 hours of gameplay. A comfortable amount, but not an enormous amount. If you play it solid for a week or so, you are done, because it is a very addictive game. However, experts can get as much as around 2 hours for the entire thing, but that is if you are very skilled, and a little crazy.
There are a host of things to even after you complete the game, and you will find many pleasant surprises waiting for you if you choose to go through the game again.
It is not my favorite game, but it comes close. This is the masterpiece to the company of Capcom, and I thank them for it very much. I am sure even after only a few months of being out, the game will go down in history in the eyes of all video game players. Like the genre or hate the genre, you cannot deny Resident Evil 4s innovations and execution.
Rent or Buy?
If you are even remotely interested, buy it. The prices should drop soon. And I'm almost sure that it will be a greatest hit soon enough, so if you want to wait until then, that is cool too. However, renting is always an acceptable course of action, so if you are a little shaky on it all, rent it and buy it if you really like it. Also keep in mind that the game is two disks.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/04/05
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